Thursday, February 25, 2016

February 25: Guns of August, Matt Gavin Frank, "The Mad Feast," Artichoke Dip

Sounds fell all about me; I vibrated like still water ruffed by wind.  Cicadas--which Donald E. Carr calls "the guns of August"--were out in full force.  Their stridulations mounted over the meadow and echoed from the rim of cliffs, filling the air with a plaintive, mysterious urgency.  I had heard them begin at twilight, and was struck with the way they actually do "start up," like an out-of-practice orchestra, creaking and grinding and all out of synch.  It had sounded like someone playing a cello with a wide-toothed comb.  The frogs added their unlocatable notes, which always seem to me to be so arbitrary and anarchistic, and crickets piped in, calling their own tune which they have been calling since the time of Pliny, who noted bluntly of the cricket, it "never ceaseth all night long to creak very shrill."

Noise.  White and otherwise.  Cacophony.  Stridulations.  Piping.  Creaking and grinding.  Dillard writes about all the sounds of nature.  Cicadas and frogs and crickets.  Noise is constant, even in the quietest of places.  Dillard is lying in a sleeping bag in the woods, staring up through trees at the stars, and she's listening to this tiny symphony

This evening, the members of my book club convened at my house.  The book:  The Mad Feast.  The author:  Matthew Gavin Frank.  It's a challenging book that avoids labels.  It's not a cookbook, even though it contains recipes.  It's not a travel book, even though it spans all 50 of the United States.  Matt calls it an "artifact," which makes it sound like a loom from colonial Boston. 

Matt is a friend of mine, a colleague from the university, and he graciously joined us for our little soiree.  The discussion ranged far and wide.  We talked about the book.  And our favorite meal (rack of lamb with mint jelly for me).  Our least favorite food (liver--Matt says he's going to make me like liver somehow).  We discussed the poet John Ashberry and pigeons.  Sea urchin and beaver tail. 

All this may strike you as a bit discordant, like a roomful of violins playing different tunes at the same time.  It wasn't.  Like Dillard zipped up in her sleeping bag, listening to the chatter of insect and amphibian, our book club conversation somehow made sense in the context of Matt's book.  We verbally wrestled, and the night (seasoned with artichoke dip and lasagna) sounded beautiful.

For the record, I love The Mad Feast, in all its weirdness.  It's a book that stretches me as a reader and person.  Sure it can be frustrating (or "annoying" as one of the book club members said), but it's that quality that makes it irresistible.  For me, it really is like a song that you have to learn to love (something by Tom Waits or Neil Young--singers with confounding voices that stretch the definition of music).

So, it was a good gathering with good food and good noise (lots of conversation and laughter and stories).

Saint Marty is full tonight.  He had a mad feast with his friends.

Everyone's a critic . . .

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